By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – He goes about his job quietly, efficiently and seldom with a flair for the dramatic.
But every once in a while, you might just catch rookie goaltender Ryan Munce moving to the music during a break in action at Rabobank Arena.
A third-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2003, Munce said he tries to keep the game as simple as possible while having fun doing so.
“I don’t jump all around the net and stuff like that and exert a lot of extra energy and mental fatigue,” said Munce, who at 20 is the youngest player on the team. “I just kind of relax when I’m out there and that’s how I think the game should be played. I might bounce around a little, have a little bit of a dance to the music, kind of take my mind off it and then just play.”
It appears to be working. Munce started the season on injured reserve, won the No. 1 job and has been in net for 11 of Bakersfield’s 13 victories. He is 11-4-5 with a goals-against average of 2.74 and save percentage of .921 (tied for third best) in the ECHL.
“Coach (Derek) Laxdal from Idaho said he’s watched everybody in the league and the best two goaltenders are (Chris) Beckford-Tseu in Alaska with Muncey right there with him,” Condors coach Marty Raymond said. “That’s a high compliment.”
Munce stopped 31 shots in a 5-1 win over Idaho on Monday night. But he stopped more than twice that many three nights earlier, repelling 63 shots in a 2-1 shootout victory over Long Beach on Jan. 6. That’s the most saves made by a goaltender in the ECHL this season.
“Actually, it wasn’t too bad,” Munce said of how fatigued he was after facing that onslaught on Friday night. “With the style I try to play I’m able to do games like that and come back the next night and then two days later like we just did and still play well enough in those games. With my style I don’t exert a lot of energy.”
Raymond noted that Munce’s positioning plays a large role in his effectiveness.
“There’s a few things he needs to improve on, such as desperate saves, but overall he’s usually well positioned,” Raymond said. “He’s learned to anticipate the play very well. Better than a lot of goalies I’ve seen at every level. That’s going to be a big asset in the new NHL where guys are always coming with speed and untouched.”
Condors fans saw a totally different style last year when the Kings placed rookie Yutaka Fukufuji in Bakersfield. Fukufuji, a ninth-round draft choice who has spent some time with Manchester of the American Hockey League this year and is currently in Reading in the ECHL, scrambled a lot in net and grew adept at acrobatic saves.
Munce would rather be in position to make an easy save.
“I try to play that really calm style that frustrates the other team,” he said. “I try to make it look simple.”
That calm, positional style of play is what Kings goaltending coach Andy Nowicki noted before Munce was drafted.
“In my report I said that was probably his biggest asset,” Nowicki said last month after a stop in Bakersfield. “He has an ability to read the play and not commit too soon. That still may be one of his best attributes.
“It’s the battle of the first move. We may be only talking about one second, but in terms of hockey on the ice that can be a long, long time. If a goalie can outwait the shooter (the shooter) ultimately runs out of time and space. It’s a short period of time but a huge factor in a scoring chance.”
Munce started playing hockey at the age of seven in his hometown of Mississauga, Ontario but had trouble skating in regular hockey skates and switched to goaltending at nine.
“I was a goal scorer at the house-league level but when I moved up to (travel hockey) my playing ability was still good but I couldn’t keep up with the players sksting-wise so I became a goalie,” he said. “At that age the players couldn’t shoot very hard. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
What he got himself into was potentially a very lucrative career.
Munce signed a three-year contract with the Kings last summer which afforded him the opportunity to purchase a new BMW 330i and stash some cash away for the future.
“I’m trying to invest most of it and I’ve saved a lot of it,” Munce said of his undisclosed signing bonus.
Munce had hoped to begin his pro career at the American Hockey League level in Manchester, but quickly warmed to the idea of playing in Bakersfield at the AA level.
“At first you’re obviously a little bit disappointed,” Munce said of his reaction when told he would be coming to Bakersfield. “But they told me they wanted me to come here to play. As soon as they said that I said, you know what, you’re absolutely right. I do want to play. I know if I was in Manchester I’d be backing up Adam Hauser.”
It didn’t take Munce long to warm to the Condors, the Bakersfield weather and the fans, which he says are great.
But as much as he’s embraced the city and fans, Munce would rather not return here next fall.
“I’m looking at playing in Manchester next year, that or L.A.,” Munce said.
It’s less than two hours by car from Rabobank Arena to the Staples Center where the Kings play, but in hockey terms it’s a long way from the Condors to the Kings.
That doesn’t faze Munce, who is nothing if not confident.
“L.A. has kind of put a plan in place for me … they want to take me slow, not rush me. But I think I could handle (playing for the Kings),” he said.